Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Star Wars is as popular a franchise as it has ever been, and with the release of Solo, the franchise told an origin story of one of the most iconic characters: Han Solo. The film was directed by Ron Howard after there was an uproar by Disney executives and the film’s actors, who felt that the previous directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, had taken the wrong approach. As much as seventy percent of the film needed to be reshot as a result.

The plot of the film centers on a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) growing up on the crime-ridden world of Corellia. Han dreams of getting off-world, becoming a pilot, and making his fortune in the galaxy with his childhood friend Qi’ra (Emilia Clark).  These dreams are soon put on hold as Han is forced to join the Imperial Navy. Han dislikes war and serving the Empire, but he is soon court-marshaled for insubordination and desertion.  However, he befriends and teams up with a ferocious Wookie named Chewbacca, and the two make their escape.

Desperate and short of options, the duo join a thieving band of mercenaries led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) in order to survive.  The band of brigands are on a hunt for a powerful fuel source that can be sold illicitly on the black market. They are in debt to a powerful underworld criminal Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who orders them to take on the impossible task of stealing the fuel and then smuggling it back through hostile territory. Han agrees because he sees it as a way of redeeming himself to Qi’ra and wining back her affection.

What follows next is an exciting, fast-paced heist that tests the courage and morals of the band as Han begins to become the scoundrel who fans are more familiar with. By the end of the film, Han has to walk a fine line between doing what’s right and surviving in this morally gray, dog-eat-dog galaxy.

The film received mostly positive reviews from critics and fans alike. It can be difficult to appease everyone while not upsetting the established nostalgia of a character already played so well by Harrison Ford. Due to the reshoots and rewrites, Disney felt it underperformed with an over-blown budget and only breaking even at the box office. I, however, was pleasantly surprised by the film. I’m definitely a fan of the franchise’s off-shoots like Rogue One and The Mandalorian.

Solo is a fun film that adds depth to the ongoing legacy of the Star Wars universe. If you haven’t seen it yet, give it a watch.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is available at the Union University Library. It is rated PG-13.

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The Matrix”

In 1999, the science fiction film style of cyberpunk was turned upside down with a revolutionary film that would come to define the genre for decades. This film was The Matrix, written and directed by a sibling team collectively known as the Wachowskis.  The film is set in the dystopian future of a large city where people go about mundane and dogmatic lives. We are introduced to our protagonist, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), who works as a computer analyst by day and a jaded internet hacker by night with the alias of Neo. He begins to question the order of things in the world and is puzzled by the reappearance of the phrase “The Matrix” online in hacker chat rooms.

Neo agrees to meet with an infamous hacker know as Trinity, played by Carrie-Anne Moss. Trinity reassures him that the answers he seeks are held by a man named Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), but he must be prepared for the consequences. Neo is soon caught by the authorities led by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). Smith warns Neo that Morpheus is a terrorist and the most dangerous man on the planet. Undeterred, Neo finally meets with Morpheus and his group of followers where he is giving a choice between two pills: one red and one blue. The red will answer his questions about the matrix, and the blue will make him forget and he can return to his normal life. Neo chooses the red pill, and the reality around him begins to distort. He then awakens in a nightmarish world but is soon rescued and brought aboard a hovering ship.

It is explained to Neo that his world is a simulation of the 21st century and, in reality, it’s closer to the 22nd century. Morpheus explains that, in the past, mankind went to war with an advanced form of artificial intelligence and lost the war. As a result, humans are now made to serve the machines as incubators for energy, and the Matrix was designed to give humans the appearance of a normal world to hide them from the fact that they are slaves to the machines. Morpheus and the few remaining humans unplugged from the Matrix believe that one day there will be a prophetic one who can defeat the machines and liberate humanity. Morpheus believes Neo is the one prophesied and begins training him for the conflict to come. Throughout his training, Neo questions Morpheus’s faith in him as he doesn’t feel special. But once disaster strikes, it falls to Neo and Trinity to attempt to save humanity from the machines.

The Matrix would go on to become a trilogy and spawn a multitude of spin-offs, graphic novels, and video games. The cinematic nature of the Matrix was ground-breaking for introducing cinema to a blend of high wire stunt chorography, Kung-Fu, and slow-motion cinematography aptly named “Bullet Time.” The themes expressed in The Matrix are as varied as they are transcending: the classic epic hero myth aspects of both Christianity and Buddhism, Platonic thought, and Utopianism.

The film review website Rotten Tomatoes still hold it at a solid 88% fresh. In 2012, it was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant. The Matrix is a detailed film that will continue to be studied for decades. If you would like to re-watch this masterpiece or watch it for the very first time, I encourage you to do so.  The Matrix is available at the Union University Library.  Please note it is rated R for violence and some language.

 

Matthew’s Monday Series: “Firefly”

In a bit of divergence this week, I would like to review a series that unfortunately only aired for one season but had a profound impact on the sci-fi genre and still inspires an extremely loyal fan base. Firefly was written and directed by Josh Whedon, who has developed many successful series and films, most notably: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and the first two Avengers films.

Firefly takes place in the distant future of 2517, where mankind has left earth due to chronic overpopulation and has since settled in a different star system with many habitable worlds and terra-formed moons. In this future, China and America fused together and now are collectively referred to as the Alliance. The Alliance sought to control and rule over all planets in the galaxy and recently fought and won a brutal war against The Independent Faction, a group of worlds that wished to remain free and self-governing. The culture and style is a blend of American, European, and East Asian in the core worlds under Alliance control. In contrast, the outer rim worlds are Rustic and filled with poverty and refugees and more akin to the Wild West than an advanced futuristic society.

Our main character is Malcom “Mal” Reynolds played by Nathan Fillion. Mal is captain of the spaceship Serenity and a former Sergeant who fought for the Independent faction during the war. Mal leads his ever-expanding crew in search of fortune while on the run from government forces, criminal organizations, and crazed cannibalistic monstrosities known as Reavers.

Firefly was a big hit with fans of science fiction and those who enjoy a classic underdog tale set as a space western. However, due to this odd setup, the series was canceled after just one season of 14 episodes. It has since developed a cult following and maintained a diehard fan base. On a positive note, in 2005 the feature film Serenity regenerated interest and also attempted to please fans in wrapping up plot points and finishing the story. I highly recommend this exciting pioneering series and the film as well. If you would like to binge this awesome series, it is available at the Union University Library.

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

O Brother, Where Art Thou? was released in the year 2000 by the Coen brothers.  It is a comedy/satire based on Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.  It depicts aspects of magical realism during the depression in Southern Mississippi. The musical score is a driving force that is characterized as “ole timey” Southern Folk music that sets the tone of the film.

O Brother, Where Art Thou tells of adventure, temptation, and redemption. The movie stars George Clooney as Ulysses Everett McGill: a fast-talking, wise-cracking everyman who is always the smartest man in the room and on a mission to be reunited with his wife and children. His two bumbling sidekicks are Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson); both are small time crooks who are manipulated by Everett for the promises of fortune. Through their haphazard adventures, they find themselves challenged by roadblocks. The trio encounter characters that are archetypes  straight out of Homer’s Odyssey.  These include: a cyclops, sirens, and a character akin to Poseidon or Satan. Throughout these misadventures, the trio experiences both highs and lows as divine providence (or luck) brings them to redemption.

This film earned 72 million dollars with only a 26 million dollar budget. The soundtrack won a Grammy for album of the year; it borrows heavily from both Primitive Baptist, African-American, Bluegrass, and Delta Blues.  The hit song, “Man of Constant Sorrow” was widely acclaimed by music critics and crossed over into multiple public venues.  It reached number 35 on U.S. County Music Billboard. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a truly timeless period piece that the entire family can enjoy, and a personal favorite of mine!

*It is rated PG 13 due to some mild language and suggestive scenes.  It is available at the Union University Library.

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Mississippi Grind”

Games of luck and chance are often followed by loss and regret, but rarely the game can turn in your favor and you can win big.  Gambling and the rush of action can be as addicting as any chemical drug, and, more times than not, it leaves sorrow and misfortune in its wake. Mississippi Grind highlights these themes in a powerfully acted and stylishly atmospheric film.

It was written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who would go on to also do blockbuster films like Captain Marvel. It stars Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn as a pair of down-on-their-luck gambling addicts who team up to hit all the major casinos and private games in order to participate in a $25,000 high stakes poker game in New Orleans. Curts (Reynolds) is a drifter who dreams of winning enough money to finally settle down, but his obsession with gambling continually leaves him on the road looking for the next big thing. Gerry (Mendelsohn) is a divorced real estate agent who is deeply in debt to everyone who knows him including loan sharks. He longs to win big so he can pay off his debts and reconnect with his wife and daughter.

This film is masterfully done as the tension and high stakes contrast the moments of friendship and bonding the two characters show for each other. Although they have different philosophies, and both have very negative character flaws, they come off as sympathetic and remarkably human and relatable.

Mississippi Grind retains a 90% fresh rating on the popular internet movie review website Rotten Tomatoes.

Mississippi Grind is available at the Union University Library.

*Please note: it is rated R for language and some suggestive situations.

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The King’s Speech”

Director Tom Hooper has many amazing films under his belt, but my favorite by far is The King’s Speech It is a period piece drama regarding Prince Albert Duke of York (Colin Firth) who, through family scandal and circumstances of succession, ends up becoming King George VI of Great Britain.

The conflict of this film is that Bertie (as his family calls him) has a severe speech impediment and detests the formality of public speaking that goes along with his royal duties. His wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) believes that a speech therapist might work whereas other doctors have failed. She sets Bertie up an appointment with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). The two clash frequently, but soon Bertie warms up to Lionel and his inquisitive and eccentric demeanor. They soon become trusting friends as Bertie begins to improve, and Bertie also shares with Lionel his own doubts and stories about his troubled upbringing.

The film picks up as the seriousness of royal politics sends Bertie to the throne just as world politics witness the rise of the third Reich and Hitler to power. Finally, with the onset of World War II, Bertie must overcome his stammer and fear and address the whole of the British Empire via a radio speech.

The King’s Speech is a fantastic, inspirational drama with great wit and comedic elements that make it an enduring film. It has a positive message of overcoming adversity and becoming your true self.  Audiences agreed as it raked in over $400 million internationally. Critics also marveled at the film as it received twelve Oscar nominations and won four, including Best Picture. The film retains a 95% fresh rating on the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes.

The King’s Speech is available at the Union University Library.

*Please note it is Rated R for strong language.

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Argo”

In light of the recent escalation in hostilities between the United States and Iran, I feel it’s a good time to recommend an excellent film that helps trace the history of the long-brewing conflict between these two nations.

Argo is a film that was directed, produced, and starred by Ben Affleck. The film details the Iranian revolution of 1979, during which the Shah of Iran, who was despotic and pro-western, was removed from power by Islamic fundamentalists. In the process, Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S embassy in Tehran and took sixty Americans hostage. However, unbeknownst to the Iranians, six embassy staffers escaped and were hidden away in the Canadian ambassador’s home.

Back in the United States, it falls to CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) to find a way to infiltrate the country and then escape with the six embassy staffers. In one of the more audacious and bizarre moments in history, a plan is conceived to make cover I.D.’s for the staffers and portray them as a film crew scouting locations in Iran for a sci-fi fantasy film akin to Star Wars. To do so, Tony must travel to Hollywood and find a producer and film studio to make it appear that they are in pre-production of the film without letting in on the fact that it’s a total fake. Once in Iran, it’s a race against time as the Iranian revolutionaries attempt to track down the missing staffers while Tony works to smuggle them out of the country.

Argo is a fantastic suspense-filled caper and was widely praised by critics. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won three including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing.

Argo is available at the Union University Library. It is rated  PG-13 for some violence and mild profanity.

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Zootopia”

Disney has long used animals to entertain us, but they also insert a subtle message or morals into their stories. Most of the time, it’s a simple message of being brave or learning that you have inner value and that your dreams can come true. Occasionally, the story can take on a deeper meaning that both children and adults can relate to and value. Zootopia is one of those films.

It is the story of a world where anthropomorphic animals evolved over time to where predators and prey now live in peace and harmony with each other. The animals in this world have jobs, just like regular people, but they’re more catered to their habitat and size. The animals in this world usually stick to their natural inclinations or temperaments most associated with the various species. This is not always the case, however, as we meet our protagonist: a rabbit by the name of Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin. Judy dreams of leaving her small town and becoming a cop and serving her fellow animals in the bustling metropolis of Zootopia. She is consistently regarded as inferior due to her size and species. Most police in this world are physically larger and brutish animals like lions, bears, and wolves. Judy, however, wishes to make her mark and earn the respect of her fellow officers.

Judy soon stumbles upon a sly fox named Nick Wilde, voiced by Jason Bateman. Nick is a professional con artist who has become disillusioned with his original hopes and dreams and has let himself become exactly what other animals always accused his nature of being. The two become unlikely partners and eventually friends due to a mysterious plot involving disappearing predatory animals and a more insidious agenda that could lead to chaos in Zootopia unless they can stop it.

This film tackles issues involving prejudice, bullying, and bigotry. It handles these issues in a very easy to understand way, becoming even tongue-in-cheek at times.  The lesson is simple and well-timed given our current social climate; Zootopia teaches that you should never prejudge someone based on their immutable characteristics, let alone an entire group.

Zootopia was extremely well received among audiences. It grossed over one billion dollars worldwide, making it one of the highest grossing animated films of all time. It also went on to receive an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

Zootopia is a witty, PG-rated film for the whole family, and it is available at the Union University Library.

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The Shawshank Redemption”

The Shawshank Redemption is based on a short novel by famed author Stephen King. It was adapted for film by writer and director Frank Darabont. The story is set in Maine in the late 1940’s, where a mild mannered banker, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), is convicted of the double murder of his wife and her lover. He is given a life sentence and is set to serve it at Shawshank State Prison.

Once Andy arrives at prison, we are introduced to Ellis Boyd Redding or “Red” played by Morgan Freeman. Red is a popular prisoner for his ability to smuggle in contraband for other prisoners. Andy and Red soon strike up a friendship after Andy uses Red’s smuggling services. Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton) soon singles out Andy for his intellectual abilities concerning finance and enlists him in some accountant work in the warden’s shady business dealings. As the years pass, Andy attempts to retain his humanity by refurbishing the prison library and clings to his stoic nature in spite of the harsh conditions and having to participate in Norton’s corrupt business dealings. Andy and Red are conflicted about the nature of their situation as Andy retains hope of living beyond the walls of the prison; whereas Red fears he would not make it on the outside as prison is all he knows. As events later take a turn for the worst, Andy begins to lose hope and is forced to make a fateful choice.

This film highlights the horrors of an unjust prison system. It does this by humanizing most of the prisoners as normal, rational people who have made mistakes in life and are now faced with living in oppressive conditions as a result. The film features many elements that hearken to religious interpretations of key moments in the film, from a falsely pious warden to Andy’s reoccurring attempts to bring the feeling of freedom to the prisoners if only for a moment.

While this movie did not earn much gross revenue at the box office, it was an outstanding success among critics and the public later on. It would be nominated for seven Academy Awards. It was eventually selected for the Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry for it being culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant. The Shawshank Redemption remains to this day on the popular website IMDB as rated #1 on its top 250 films of all time. This film has such a powerful impact on anyone who watches it.

The Shawshank Redemption is available at the Union University Library.

* Please note it is rated R for violence and harsh language.

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “We Were Soldiers”

Director Randall Wallace has written, produced, and adapted many moving stories into outstanding motion pictures, such as Braveheart, The Man in the Iron Mask, and classics like Secretariat. In 2002, he brought to life the harrowing true story of how on November 14th, 1965, the brave men of the U.S. 7th Cavalry found themselves in the first major battle of the Vietnam War.

We Were Soldiers stars Mel Gibson as Lt. Colonel Hal Moor, who has recently been chosen to command the U.S. 7th Cavalry.  Knowing that war is likely imminent in Vietnam, Moor must train his soldiers in the use of helicopters as a way of getting them into to battle. Moor quickly bonds with his enlisted men and earns the respect of his officers. Secretly he fears the ominous legacy that the 7th Cavalry has incurred ever since it was nearly wiped out in the past at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. When tensions escalate, the 7th Calvary is called to Vietnam. Unsure of where the enemy is, Moor’s orders are simply to find the enemy and destroy them. The eventual battle would come at the Ia Drang valley.

The North Vietnamese Army had been wanting to lure U.S troops into a trap, and as fate would have it, this proved to be a perfect opportunity. After Moor and the first detachment arrive, they soon learn they are severely outnumbered and are being pinned down by large numbers of NVA troops. The men of the 7th Calvary are cut off and surrounded on all sides, and they risk being annihilated like at Little Bighorn. Over the next four days, Moor and his men fight for survival day and night against frightful odds.

The film also cuts to the home front where Moor’s wife Julia (Madeleine Stowe) decides to help look after the soldier’s wives back on the base once they start receiving news of some of their husband’s deaths. We lastly see the story through the eyes of a young combat reporter, Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper), who documents the sacrifices of the young soldiers. Joe Galloway would later go on to author the book “We Were Soldiers Once and Young” detailing the accounts of the battle Ia Drang Valley. Victory in the battle finally comes for the Americans but at a terrible cost, and it becomes clear that, as a result, the war in Vietnam will only escalate in its scale and ferocity.

So many movies on the Vietnam war attempt to shock and dehumanize both sides of the conflict; this film stands out because it shows the bravery and humanity of both the Vietnamese and Americans who died fighting.

We Were Soldiers is available at the Union University Library. Please note it is Rated R for intense scenes of warfare.  We are also happy to provide you with the book that this film is based on and adapted from.